We're not going to pretend we know as much about baseball as you do.
Sure, as Philly natives, we've attended games at the Vet and Citizen's Bank Park, celebrated playoff wins on small TVs in our dorm rooms, followed the Phillies' 2008 World Series run -- and one of us was even in attendance for the legendary J-Roll walk-off double in the 2009 NLCS. We've also tracked the Phils' progressively less impressive post-seasons since.
But when our boss, a diehard baseball fan, challenged us to come up with a list of the Top 10 Baseball Hall of Fame induction speeches of all-time, let's just say we didn't have long memories of romantic games on hot summer nights -- spitting tobacco and scoring games -- to fall back on. That was revealed when we showed him our first draft, as he patiently explained that our paragraph about looking forward to Cub great Ron Santo's Hall of Fame speech later this month was sadly impossible -- because he died in 2010 -- and our use of "Win one for the Gipper" could only ever be allowed in a piece about football.
That's why we guarantee that this will be the most unbiased sports article you ever read.
This top 10 is from a writer's point of view (or at least two recent grads who want to be writers). Today, forget those stats and histories crammed in your head. When you lack knowledge about baseball history like us, you can judge these speeches not by the color of their uniform, but by the content of their clichés (not to mention the structure of their speeches, their baseball stories, and the number of random people they thank).
We've already had baseball fans argue our speech choices because of a player preference. In fact, as soon as word got out about our project, male colleagues - who heretofore had expressed no interest in baseball - consistently stopped by our work area to give their input on who was best. We got to see first-hand the kinds of "Mickey, Willie or the Duke" arguments baseball fans have been having for a century.
Our response to know-it-all opposing fans?
In preparation for this article, we read every Baseball Hall of Fame speech available, and you didn't. That's right, we read over 200 induction speeches--the good, the bad, and the ugly. We won't name our least favorites, but let's just say several went on for at least 40 minutes, and one player even advised his audience to leave midway through his speech "because this is absolutely going nowhere."
We sifted through them all to find the most inspiring, laugh-inducing, tear-jerking speeches out there--the ones that made us want to drop our pens and pick up a bat because they made us believe we, too, could be baseball greats. Regardless of your profession or your knowledge of baseball, these speeches inspire us to give everything we have to the things we care about, never let failure discourage us, and appreciate the people who help and love us along the way.
Not bad advice for two girls just starting out in life.
10. Rickey Henderson, July 26, 2009
Henderson's 2009 speech is widely celebrated, mostly for its un-Henderson-like modesty. Turns out, this Hall of Famer really had to be pushed to start playing baseball. We need to find someone who will bribe us like this to write cover letters:
Now let me tell you a story about how I got into playing baseball. When I was a kid in Oakland, Mr. Hank Thomas tricked me into playing Babe Ruth baseball by coming to pick me up with a glazed donut and a cup of hot chocolate. That was the way he would get me up and out of bed and to the ballpark.
My first year in high school, my favorite sport was football. I did not like baseball. My counselor, Mrs. Wilkinson, bribed me into playing baseball. She would pay me a quarter every time I would get a hit, a run scored or stole a base. After my first ten games, I had 30 hits, 25 runs scored and 33 steals. Not bad money for a kid in high school.
9. Andre Dawson, July 25, 2010
We mentioned we appreciate modesty, and some of our favorite speech moments came when players trained the spotlight away from themselves and onto their teammates and friends. It's nice when this is done to express appreciation, but even more entertaining when players use the podium to give us the inside scoop on funny stories of player mischief. Everyone knows baseball players are just big kids; Andre Dawson's speech proved it. Highlights include:
I see Tom Seaver sitting back here. So, I saw him this morning at breakfast, too, and he wanted me to feel comfortable, so threw a breakfast roll past my head."
"Tommy Lasorda, he taught me how to get a free meal. He said eat half your steak and send it back and complain and get a whole new free one. You've got to love Tommy."
"Shawon Dunston was like a little brother to me. He liked to say that I was old enough to be his dad. Funniest man I ever met, Shawon Dunston. Unfortunately, this is a family show and I can't tell you a single Shawon Dunston story right now.
8. Billy Williams, July 26, 1987
In his speech, Billy Williams revealed how a a nursery rhyme pushed him through his professional career: "good, better, best, never let it rest until the good is better and better is best." Not only did he push for the best of his athletic ability in his career, but in his speech, he called for social equality--in the dugout, executive suites and the owner's box -- in baseball. For someone who the HOF website calls "soft-spoken," he's pretty eloquent:
This ceremony today is a reason to celebrate, but is also a time for reflection. A time to examine the game's strength and weakness, by improving what is good and correcting what is bad. Yes, the road is rocky and long, but the time to pave the way for true equality is now. The next courageous step rests with the owners of 26 Major League ball clubs. They can make the difference by not looking at the color of a man's skin, but by examining his ability, talent, knowledge, and leadership. If this is the land of opportunity, then let it be true to become the land of opportunity for all.
Questions have been raised in recent months by the media about the participation of blacks and other minorities in decision-making positions in baseball. The issue wouldn't have come up if every job in baseball was open to every league, creed, race, and nationality. But, this is not the case. We minorities, for the past four decades have demonstrated our talents as players. And now we deserve the chance and consideration to demonstrate similar talents, as third base coaches, as managers, as general managers, as executives in the front office, and yes, owners of major league ball clubs themselves.
Baseball has become considered America's favorite pastime. Now let's make this sport that reflects the true spirit of our great country and nation that more than 200 years ago was dedicated to the proposition that all men, all men are created equal. Yes, plans and words can be transformed into actions and deeds. We ask for nothing less but we seek what is just.
7. Paul Molitor, July 5, 2004
We like Molitor's speech because it tells a story. It has structure. It takes us chronologically through his life - from his days of catching his dad's home runs before they flew over the backyard fence to having his own children as a major leaguer. It's how a sturdy Hall of Fame speech has the potential to be, and that's why we're including it here. As Molitor points out,
... it's the Hall of Fame, it's that magical place, it's that place that transcends time, where baseball is respectful, traditional, simple and pure."
While nearly every player had words of praise for their fathers, we have a soft spot for those who thanked their moms. Nobody did it better than Molitor:
"Somehow amidst raising eight kids, she managed to see me play a lot of games. But my mom always thought she was a jinx. She'd come to the games and she'd watch them from her car or she'd hide behind the tree. And it was strange because it continued even in the major leagues. I'd leave her seats in the family section and couldn't find her. She'd walk around looking for an empty seat. It's kind of like "Where's Waldo," you know, "Where's my mom?" But I'll certainly never forget all that my mom did for me. We had the most incredible visit in Spring Training shortly before she suddenly passed away in 1988, and it was just very open and very intimate. It was like that she knew she'd be going to heaven soon. So, I thank God for giving us that special time, and I miss you and I love you, Mom.
6. Ralph Kiner, August 18, 1975
Abbott and Costello weren't the only ones to find humor on the baseball diamond. High pressure atmospheres and intense spotlights have a habit of breeding absurdity, and we appreciate players who took a moment to laugh at themselves and their teammates. In his 1975 speech, former Pittsburgh Pirate Ralph Kiner shared a story in which he was the victim of an extortion plot that warned he would be shot in left field that day if he didn't pay up. With a hint of humor, Kiner shares the relieved words of teammate George Metkovich after the day ended without incident:
And so the game got over, the doubleheader was over at seven, and we got inside and I sat down and George came up to me and he said, 'You know, I'm really glad this day is over.' And I said, 'George, that's really nice of you to worry about me getting shot out there in left field.' He said, 'Worry about you? Not you.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said 'What's your number?' I said, 'My number's 4.' 'Well,' he said, 'my number's 44. What if that guy had double vision?'
5. Richie Ashburn, July 30, 1995
Ashburn's 1995 speech is admittedly a nod to our home team, but this speech won us over with an entertaining story about the 120th loss of the farcical 1962 New York Mets -- the "worst team ever put together in the history of baseball" -- for whom Ashburn wryly claimed to be the most valuable player. After detailing the team's woeful final out, Ashburn summed up his career with a universal lesson that comes from wins and losses alike:
As we walked into the visitors' clubhouse Casey Stengel was standing there. And he said to us, he said, "Fellers," he says, "I don't want anybody to feel bad about this," he said, "this has been a real team effort." He said, "No one or two people could have done all this." Well,... I'm going to quote Casey, no one or two people could have done all this, and everybody that had a part of it, God bless, and especially the fans, you have made this the greatest day of my life.
4. Don Sutton, July 26, 1998
Don Sutton had many things to be thankful for in his career - winning 324 games and striking out more than 3,500 batters, for instance. (Yes, we had to look that up.) But in his speech, he told everyone that he was most thankful for his "heroes": his wife, Mary, and his two-year-old daughter, Jackie -- who was born 16 weeks early with "a one in a hundred chance of making it." On his own special day, Sutton delivered a message to his new daughter for her to keep in years to come:
And you, little girl, thanks for sticking around to be a part of this. A year ago you put it all into a proper perspective and this year you make it perfect. For the last two years, you've helped remind me of how much more important life is than the things in life, even this.You have been an inspiration, not only to your father, but to thousands of others. Someday you will see a video of this, and the first thing you will want to know is, why it isn't 'Zippity-Do-Da.' But it will mean something to you, but never as much as you have meant to me.
Don Sutton also had a special reverence for the Hall of Famers before him. They inspired him and he seems to be so humble that he still separates himself from their ranks:
[I]f you don't feel an aura that's almost spiritual when you walk through the Hall of Fame and when you stand with these people, then check tomorrow's obituary, you're in it, 'cause these people are the greatest...
My mother used to worry about my imaginary friends 'cause I would be out in the yard playing ball. She worried because she didn't know a Mickey, or a Whitey, or a Yogi, or a Moose, or an Elston, but I played with them every day. And every day they let a kid come out and play with them, and I thank them. And because they let me play with them, and because I could play it here, I had a thousand games experience when I got to Dodger Stadium for the first time. And because they let me play with them, I wasn't nervous 'cause I'd already played with some of the greatest.
3. Bert Blyleven, July 24, 2011
Blyleven's 2011 speech weaves the history of his career through funny and endearing stories. Among our favorites is the story of his first major league start. The eager young ballplayer had dressed in a hurry and was almost to the dugout when his manager pointed out a slight "equipment" oversight:
Mr. Rigney was there posting the lineup card and he looked me up and down and said, 'Bert, are you nervous?' Nineteen years old going to make my first Major League start. No, I'm not nervous. And he pulled me back into the runway even a little bit more and said, 'Are you sure you're not nervous?' I said, 'Yeah, why do you ask?' He said, 'Listen, Bert, I don't know how you did it in high school and I don't know how you did it in the Minor Leagues, but up here in the Majors, we try to wear our athletic supporter on the inside.' So I had to go back in and change.
2. Tommy Lasorda, August 3, 1997
Aside from a minor lapse of sanity in which Lasorda called Tony Danza "one of the great actors in the history of Hollywood," this speech has it all: humor, humility, and a heartfelt conclusion that goes out to all the sand lots of the world. Hearkening back to his childhood aspirations of baseball greatness, Lasorda ends his speech by giving us a peek into what it feels like to wake up and find that your dreams have actually come true:
I was a Yankee fan, Whitey. And I used to go to bed and I used to actually dream that I was pitching for the Yankees. And I looked and Bill Dickey was giving me the signs, and I looked and DiMaggio and Gehrig were on the field. And then all of a sudden, I'd feel my mother shaking me, and saying, 'Wake up, Tommy, it's time to go to school.' I did not want to leave that dream. I wanted to stay there, because the dream was so real. After what is happening to me now, it's unbelievable. This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my lifetime. I have been fortunate enough to win world championships, Cy Young awards, MVP's, nine Rookies of the Year, All-Star games... but they come and go. But the Hall of Fame is eternity. And I thank God for all of it. And I feel that it won't be too long that my mother will be shaking me and saying 'Wake up, Tommy, it's time to go to school.' I am living a dream.
1. Ryne Sandberg, July 31, 2005
Sandberg was inducted in 2005, the same year that Mark McGwire and 10 other baseball playersand execs testified at a congressional hearing on steroid use. In response, Ryne Sandberg famously addressed what he believed to be a lack of respect for the game of baseball. His speech was the epitome of eloquence at the podium. We'll let Ryno speak for himself:
"The reason I am here, they tell me, is that I played the game a certain way, that I played the game the way it was supposed to be played. I don't know about that, but I do know this: I had too much respect for the game to play it any other way, and if there was there was a single reason I am here today, it is because of one word, respect. I love to play baseball. I'm a baseball player. I've always been a baseball player. I'm still a baseball player. That's who I am..."
Sandberg describes how back when he was playing, if a player showed up to spring training 20 pounds heavier, "he was considered out of shape and was probably in trouble."
These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third, it's disrespectful to them, to you, and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up. Respect...
I wish you all could feel what I feel standing here. This is my last big game. This is my last big at-bat. This is my last time catching the final out. I dreamed of this as a child but I had too much respect for baseball to think this was ever possible. I believe it is because I had so much respect for the game and respect for getting the most out of my ability that I stand here today. I hope others in the future will know this feeling for the same reason: Respect for the game of baseball. When we all played it, it was mandatory. It's something I hope we will one day see again.
So there you have it. The MVPs of major league oratory. These guys weren't only stars on the field but stars at the podium, too. We laughed, we cried -- we look forward to hearing what Barry Larkin (and sorry, not Ron Santo) has to say at his induction on July 22. Because no matter how talented the speaker, there's just something special about watching the world's most fearsome competitors speak from their hearts about their gratitude for the game.
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